As an international student, you may have unique concerns when it comes to internship or job searches in the U.S. Below are strategies you may find helpful to become the most competitive candidate possible.
Work Authorization & Immigration Status
Employment Authorization for F-1 and J-1 Students
It is every international student’s responsibility to be fully informed about work authorization options in order to facilitate the hiring process for employers. Eligible F-1 international students are able to work off-campus during their academic program using Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and after graduation using Optional Practical Training (OPT). It is important to know OPT is 12 months and STEM Extension OPT is an additional 24 months. Eligible J-1 international students are able to work off-campus using Academic Training (AT) both during and after their academic program. All off-campus employment must be related to a student’s field of study.
H-1B and Employment-Based Visas
In order to continue working in the U.S. after the practical training period, your employer will need to sponsor you for an employment visa. The H-1B is a common employment visa but there are other options.
Discussing Work Authorization with an Employer
Fortunately for employers, there is little paperwork involved in hiring an international student with Practical Training work authorization. However, if your employment extends beyond the practical training period, the process becomes more complex. Employers unfamiliar with the process of sponsoring someone’s immigration status may be intimidated by the prospect.
There is no official time when you are required to tell an employer about your student immigration status. Most employers will ask you either in the first or second interview. Be honest about your situation, but also be informed. It is very important for international students to be comfortable with the restrictions and authorizations on their work status as employers very rarely know it all. Be confident, and be upfront. Ideally, the employer will understand that the skills and global perspectives you bring to the company will far outweigh extra measures needed to hire you.
Target employers with a history of hiring international employees. You can access myvisajobs.com and see companies that have sponsored H-1B employment visas in the past.
Internships and Externships
Internships provide career-related experience and increase your networking contacts. Shadowing professionals on the job (externships) for a day or two can also provide key insights about careers and expand your pool of contacts.
Resumes in the U.S. may be different from CVs in your home country. U.S. resumes do not include personal information such as marital status, date of birth, or photographs. They tend to be one page long and are focused on presenting information relevant to the position. When listing overseas experience, it may be helpful to offer a brief explanation about companies or educational experiences that are unfamiliar to U.S. employers (for example, “the second largest marketing firm in China” or “the top university in Brazil").
When interviewing in the U.S., you are expected to be comfortable talking about your accomplishments, to demonstrate familiarity with the company and the job description, and to confidently persuade the employer that you are the best person for the position. The U.S. style of self-promotion may seem brash or boastful, but it will be necessary to adapt to the U.S. norm in order to successfully compete for positions. Non-verbal communication is important when interacting with employers. Practice your firm, professional handshake and eye contact in order to greet your prospective employer with confidence. This form of communication gets easier with practice.
Networking with personal and professional contacts is often the key to finding positions in the U.S. and should be a priority in your search. Develop an introduction, often called an elevator speech, which tells a potential contact your name, field of study, relevant skills, and career goals in about a minute. Practice your introduction so that you will be comfortable delivering it and then be prepared to modify it as the situation demands. Use it to introduce your career goals into discussions with professors, classmates, people you meet through internships and professional associations, at employer events, and at other networking opportunities that arise on campus. Don’t let shyness or modesty get in your way. Having current professionals and recruiters on your side increases the likelihood a company or organization will hire you.
Make an effort to refine your English language skills, both written and verbal (especially conversational), so you can be successful in your search and have rewarding experiences at SUNY-ESF. Strong English language skills, non-verbal communication skills, and interpersonal skills are all crucial for non-native English speakers who wish to work and succeed in the U.S., and it’s never too late to start polishing those skills. For non-native speakers, it can be difficult to take the chance to speak in conversation for fear of making mistakes. For native English speakers, it can also be difficult to understand a cultural reference or joke.
Career Fairs are great ways to make professional contacts with SUNY-ESF alumni and employers. You can learn about opportunities at various organizations and to allow employers to get to know you.
Participating in student groups can increase your connections, leadership experience, and confidence. Information on student organizations can be found on the SUNY-ESF and Syracuse University websites. Join professional associations to boost your network and keep you current with trends in your field. Join the local chapter of a national organization (most offer a student membership rate) and participate in meetings and conferences. Get to know professional members. Reach out to these new contacts for informational interviews.
Be proud of your home country and display it as a strength that you may know two (if not more) languages, countries, cultures, rules, etc. Often international students view their status as a deficiency, where it is truly an asset in the job search. Also, it is okay to admit that you might not know something. Rather than not answering or responding, it is okay to ask about the cultural reference or an unfamiliar custom.
Additional Resources to Explore
- Myvisajobs.com: Resource to see which employers have petitioned for H-1Bs in the past. This site also shows employers who have sponsored for Permanent Residency (Green Card).
- Utilize the ESF Office of International Education as a resource for better understanding your own immigration status. If you have any questions, they are always more than willing to assist and they can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inspired in part by: Syracuse University Career Services, Cornell Career Services, UC Berkeley Career Center, and RIT Career Services
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